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Shock Treatment: The Punditocracy v. The Blogosphere

I have never counted myself among those who believe that the blogosphere one day will replace the mainstream sports media. While we are still sorting out the proper relationship between new and old methods of mass communication, it seems clear to me that bloggers will never replace the full-time journalists in the press box, on the sideline, or in the locker room and we should not aspire to do so.

Relax, you pompous gasbag!

Outside of straight news reporting, however, most functions of the sports media establishment are better performed by webloggers. Sports blogs contain better humor (as tacitly acknowledged by Colin Cowherd) and superior analysis . . . which is why columnists and commentators, who are much more expendable than quality beat reporters, feel the need to rely on the shock value of uttering sheer nonsense in order to justify their increasingly marginalized existence.

Take, for instance, Stewart Mandel, who becomes more superfluous with each passing posting. Claiming to have identified championship criteria better explicated by Sunday Morning Quarterback, Mandel opined absurdly that Texas, Florida, and L.S.U. were not legitimate national title contenders but Clemson, Georgia Tech, and South Carolina were.

It would be one thing if these claims were merely wrong. It would be one thing if these claims were merely obviously wrong. As Paul Westerdawg observes, though, these claims are simply idiotic . . . so much so that these sentiments could not have been set down as legitimate expressions of opinion. Mandel's latest offerings represent nothing more or less than flagrant and pathetic attempts to prolong his fading relevance.


Stewart Mandel's declaration that the Gamecocks are national title contenders and the Longhorns aren't was as desperate as Fox's attempt to give "Fastlane" a ratings boost by airing an episode featuring an on-screen kiss between Jamie Pressley and Tiffani Thiessen. Mandel's asinine columns, though, aren't the subject of nearly as many image searches on Google.

As sheer nonsense goes, Mandel's latest foolishness is tough to top . . . yet it wasn't even the most shameless silliness to seep out of the mainstream media this week. As noted by Burnt Orange Nation, Ivan Maisel had his own Howard Stern moment when the employee of the Worldwide Leader proclaimed on the worldwide web that defense doesn't win championships.

In support of this preposterous proposition (which already has been refuted repeatedly here at Dawg Sports), Maisel forces the square peg of reality into the round hole of his misconceptions, quoting knowledgeable sources and twisting their words to say what he wants them to say.

"You keep using those quotations. I do not think they mean what you think they mean."

In support of his spurious contention, Maisel quotes several coaches and is undeterred by the fact that they do not agree with him.

Asked if defense wins championships, Ed Orgeron replied, "No doubt." He cited the example of the 2006 Rose Bowl, in which Texas and Southern California combined for 79 total points and 1,130 yards of total offense, with respect to which Coach Orgeron noted: "Look at what happened. Look at the game. The best offense ever couldn't win it."

Jim Tressel agrees. "If you look at the play of the game for the national championship, it was still a fourth-and-two. It still comes down to that." Maisel is forced to begin his next sentence with the words, "Yes, but" . . . yet he is undeterred.

Later in his column, perhaps hoping his readers lack the attention spans to recall Coach Tressel's actual words, Maisel declares boldly that "Tressel acknowledged that there has been a shift in the winning paradigm." Here is the verbatim quotation upon which Maisel relies in support of his stunning statement:

I don't know if you can say a pendulum has swung. I do say this: Kids throw and catch more growing up. High schools do have video systems. They learn the game more. It's a little bit advanced. But on the other hand, [in] the NFL, which is supposedly the finest people playing that game, defense still wins championships. I don't know that the game has changed any.

Since Coach Tressel obviously said exactly the opposite of what the columnist claims he said, Maisel then backtracks, noting that "Tressel, old-school soul that he is, couldn't bring himself to say it." Two paragraphs ago, he "acknowledged" it but he "couldn't bring himself to say it"?

In order to find someone who will "say it" in Coach Tressel's stead, Maisel turns to Mark Dantonio, the head coach who last year guided Cincinnati to a 4-7 record. Coach Dantonio's quarterback, Dustin Grutza, completed 56 per cent of his passes and threw for 1,799 yards last fall . . . but the Bearcat signal-caller also threw as many interceptions as touchdowns and led an offense that scored 20 or fewer points in six of its 11 games in 2005.

For whatever it might be worth, last year's Cincinnati defense surrendered 31 points to South Florida, 38 points to Pittsburgh, 38 points to West Virginia, 42 points to Penn State, 44 points to Miami (Ohio), 44 points to Rutgers, and 46 points to Louisville, so Coach Dantonio might not be the best fellow to sound the death knell of defense as a crucial component of capturing championships.

(I should state on Coach Dantonio's behalf that his quotation in Maisel's article deals strictly with the importance of good tackling, so I suspect the Cincinnati head coach knows better than the columnist suggests he does. That would stand to reason, since Coach Dantonio was the Ohio State defensive coordinator whose D guided the Buckeyes to the 2002 national championship in a season in which O.S.U. limited its eight Big Ten opponents to 17, 16, 14, 7, 3, 6, 16, and 9 points, respectively.)

Ivan Maisel, like John Gray, encourages us not to focus on what people actually say, but on the completely opposite things they really mean.

Maisel doesn't stop there, though. He turns instead to Rich Rodriguez, whose offensive acumen no citizen of Bulldog Nation could gainsay. Coach Rod, though, is not willing to go so far as to declare defense of secondary importance. "People just say you win with defense," says the West Virginia head man. "You win with all phases. . . . It really takes all three phases."

Maisel cites specious statistics to support his claims, relying upon the 55 points the Trojans scored on the Sooners in the 2005 Orange Bowl while ignoring altogether the fact that U.S.C.'s 2004 defense held 10 of its 13 opponents to 19 or fewer points.

Noting that the Volunteers fielded a pretty good D last year, Maisel sniffs that "those stats went unsullied by a bowl game, because Tennessee finished 5-6." That is true . . . but the Vols were just a handful of plays away from 9-2. If the E.S.P.N. columnist insists upon remaining oblivious to the Bearcats' defensive lapses, why is he so determined to be unforgiving of the Big Orange's offensive woes?

Left with nothing else upon which to hang his hat, Maisel has no choice but to rely upon the font of wisdom that is Bill Callahan, who states:

You gotta score points nowadays. You gotta be able to throw the football, especially in this [Big 12 Conference], because people can get up on you so quick, so fast. . . . Everybody is talking about, "Run the football." . . . You've got to score points.

Maisel proceeds to brag on the former N.F.L. head coach, pointing out that, when his team fell behind 21-0 against Texas Tech last season, the Big Red Machine rallied to take a fourth-quarter lead . . . then lost, 34-31. Defense doesn't win championships? In Maisel's example, offense doesn't even win games.

In fact, Coach Callahan took over a Nebraska program that had not had a losing season in 42 years and immediately guided the team to a 5-6 record that snapped a 35-year streak of postseason berths. After compiling a 13-10 ledger to commence his career in Lincoln, Coach Callahan has attempted to move the Cornhuskers back to their historic roots.

Ultimately, though, even Maisel's chief witness turns on him. "It used to be defense wins championships," Coach Callahan observes, adding: "I think it all starts there. I still believe it starts with stopping the run game. But, you've got to be able to defend the pass."

Ivan Maisel, meet Erskine Russell, the patron saint of G.A.T.A.

In the end, none of the several coaches quoted by the E.S.P.N. columnist agree with the proposition in support of which they all have been cited . . . probably because Maisel's declaration of the death of defense is nonsense.

Maisel and Mandel are better than this. (Well, all right, Maisel is better than this.) When the purveyors of sports opinions for major media outlets are reduced to churning out mindless drivel designed only to stun the reader into sticking around to see ludicrous declarations weakly defended with a straight face, it is time to let the law of comparative advantage come into play.

Sports Illustrated and E.S.P.N., y'all handle the sports coverage. That's what you're good at doing. Broadcast the games, write up the news reports, and publish the box scores.

When it comes to offering opinions and analysis, though, it is apparent that the pundits' day is done. It's the blogosphere's turn. Orson and Stranko said it best . . . "college football is far too important to be left to the professionals."

Vive le revolucion! (See? Even Fidel Castro knows it's important for the defense to get tougher in the fourth quarter!)

Go 'Dawgs!